Friday, July 09, 2010

Baie de Morlaix

The Baie de Morlaix is a delightful area to explore by sea kayak and it lends itself to day trips as opposed to multi-day wanderings. The outer mouth of the bay is in the region of 5 miles wide between Pointe de Primel and Roscoff to the west, but most paddlers will want to explore the middle and upper reaches of the Bay. My favourite launching spot is Terenez on the eastern shore.
Terenez seen from the south. At high water it is possible to launch from either side of the spit.

It allows easy access to many of the finer features of the bay, allowing one to sense the geographical and historical associations whilst being aware of modern navigational developments. At first sight the bay appears to be a mass of impenetrable islands and reefs but closer inspection reveals numerous channels which wind their way seemingly without purpose, but which actually allow access to one delightful lagoon after another, particularly at low water. At high water it is only the larger features which raise their heads above the seascape. A good introduction to the bay is the circumnavigation of Ile Callot from Terenez. Ideally leave about an hour or so after high water. Pass to the south of Ile Sterec. This is one of my favourite islands in Brittany, it has a ruggedness which is more reminiscent of the Hebrides than northern France.
The headland immediately to the south is the site of the Cairn de Barnenez, approaching 7,000 years old it is one of the most important pre-historic sites in the region. It is about 72 metres long and 6 metres high, whilst there are 11 burial chambers. It is estimated that it would have taken about 300 builders working for 10 months to construct the cairn, highlighting just how an important feature it was. Some of the burial features have been exposed by quarrying and it is fortunate that it remains because in the 1950’s the stone was almost used in the construction of roads. Today there is a museum which is attached to the site and well worth a visit.
Barnenez seen from the land. This human feature is well worth a visit although the views from the water are spectacular
Our journey takes us just to the north of Ile Noire lighthouse, which at 15 metres high and in the middle of the channel which heads towards Morlaix, is an instantly recognizable feature. Leaving at the time suggested the tide will be gently carrying you north at this point and due allowance should be made to ensure a close passage to Ile Louet lighthouse, which is one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the area.
Ile Noire light seen from the land.
To the north the distinctive square fort of Chateau du Taureau is clearly visible. Built in the 16th Century to help defend Morlaix, it has since been used as a prison and a sailing school!
Chateau de Taureau seen from the west
One of the interesting features of the Bay is the number and variety of birds which may be encountered. The exact species will depend upon the time of the year but one is unlikely to be disappointed. The islands to the north of Chateau de Taureau have been designated a bird reserve and landing is prohibited. During the winter months a wide variety of birds arrive including Brent Geese and waders such as Curlews, Turnstones and Oystercatchers. One March day I encountered a flock of probably 100 plus Red Breasted Mergansers and a number of grebes, whilst Little Egrets stalked the coastal shallows. In the summer months the species change but the interest is maintained. Gannets, from Sept Iles, may be seen cruising the outer waters of the Bay whilst gulls and terns breed closer in. At least 3 species of terns breed on the small islets. Common and Sandwich Terns are probably recognised by most paddlers but the far rarer Roseate Tern is likely to be less familiar. The moral is whenever you are in the area remain vigilant as you never know what may appear.

Chris passing in front of Ile Louet Lighthouse

To be continued:

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